Survey finds Will County should spend federal aid on health care, infrastructure, housing

The Will County Board has been discussing on how to dole out about $134 million from the American Rescue Plan

A survey of nearly 800 people said Will County should prioritize health care, infrastructure and housing assistance as it decides how to spend $134 million in federal aid.

The Will County Board Executive Committee unveiled the results of the survey it conducted to get input on how to use the funds received via the American Rescue Plan earlier this year. County board members urged residents and business owners to fill out the survey.

“We’ve had a successful effort to gather another level of public engagement on this process,” Nick Palmer, the board’s chief of staff, said during a meeting on Thursday.

The respondents also listed several other issues the county could use the money for, including investing in transportation services, school programs, public broadband, and job training.

Palmer shared a presentation which showed that of the more than 770 respondents, the large majority, about 87%, identified as residents living in Will County. About 7% were business owners in the county and about 5% identified as some other category like a stakeholder or a visiting student.

The respondents lived in 44 ZIP codes and more than 20 municipalities within the county. They also represented more than 120 organizations, including different businesses and neighborhood groups.

Palmer said the survey was not done with a “scientific approach” but was the county’s way of gathering input from residents in a more informal manner. He said it might mean the responses were more geared toward the needs of residents.

To supplement the data, Palmer said he and Will County Board Speaker Mimi Cowan, D-Naperville, have met with most of the major colleges and schools in the county, chambers of commerce, social service agencies and other municipalities about how the county should spend the aid.

The county board underwent a similar process to distribute about $120 million it received via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act last year to help residents, businesses, governments and organizations impacted by the pandemic.

For this pot of federal money, some have suggested using the aid in more ambitious ways to provide better services for more residents. Unlike the CARES Act funds, the county has a few years to spend the $134 million.

Cowan said the board will further review requests for funding next month and will continue to solicit ideas on where to allocate the money.

“Good ideas are good ideas,” Palmer said. “And we want to keep them coming in.”

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.